Intelligence (Fatanah) and Discernment (Firasah)

Fatanah which means extraordinary intelligence is one of the five distinguishing features of the prophets. Fatanah is not merely dry intelligence or logic but rather it is perception beyond genius. It is an expression of the mind, of discernment and foresight, in connection with the heart.

In order to carry out their duty of preaching perfectly and without fault, all prophets must have had to possess this extraordinary intelligence. Otherwise they would not be able to bring strong proofs to support their case and they would not be able to convince and persuade people.

The prophets are superior to other people in all characteristic and primarily in intelligence, aptitude and discernment. They possessed a strong memory, a high degree of discernment and a powerful capacity for logic and persuasion. They were able to solve the most difficult and complex of problems quite easily. They spoke using ‘sehl-i mumteni[1]’ when they explained matters and thus those whom they addressed had no difficulty in understanding them even though their powers of perception may have differed greatly.

One of the characteristics of the prophets which is firasah has the meaning of have such fine intelligence as to be able to address the one being spoken to according to their level. An act that can please one person may in fact sadden another. Thus training and teaching people involves being able to determine their psychological state and predict events and reactions beforehand.

The following event is noteworthy as it shows how the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) treated people who were far from intelligence and foresight and who gave rulings without knowing fully the commands of the religion and thus were the means of people being subject to harm as a result.

Jabir (r.a) narrates:

We were once on an expedition when one of our friends was hit in the head with a rock and his head began to bleed. The man later lost his major ritual ablution (due to a wet dream) and became ritually impure. He asked those around him:

“Is there licence for me to perform the tayammum (dry ablution)?”

They replied:

“You are able to use water so we do not think there is any licence for you”

The man washed himself while in that wounded state and as a result he passed away. When we arrived back in the presence of Allah’s Messenger, he was informed of this event.

The Prophet got very angry and said:

“… the cure for ignorance is to ask. It would have been enough for him to perform the dry ablution, then wrap his wound with a bandage and wipe over the bandage and then wash the rest of his body”(Abu Dawud, Taharah, 125/337; Ibn Majah, Taharah 93).

Consequently it is a requirement for those Muslims who follow in the footsteps of the Prophet to possess intelligence, to be knowledgeable, clever, attentive, and possess foresight.

Firasah is a light that Allah places in the heart of those of His servants that He loves. It is the manifestation in the heart of the characteristics of high intelligence, perception, knowledge and understanding as the spiritual ability to perceive. It is to perceive the inner face of events and to correctly assess and determine what passes through the mind and the hearts as a result of the sincere feelings and inspiration that rise in the heart. This firasah can only be the lot of those free themselves from the arrogance of the nafs and who look at events with the light of Allah.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Beware of the firasah of the believer. Because when he looks, he looks with the light of Allah” (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 15/3127).

 With this hadith he indicated that each believer’s firasah is according to the degree of their faith. In this respect then the firasah of the friends of Allah, those perfect believers is much greater than that of other believers.

The best of firasah begins with struggling to solve the mystery of death. It is only possible to know the truth of the mysteries and truths of this fleeting world by ‘dying before one dies’. Jalaluddin al Rumi has said:

“The intelligent ones are those who weep first and laugh later; The fools are those who first of all immerse themselves in laughter and then later bang their heads out of regret. O human being! Be discerning and see the end result of your affair from the beginning and then be saved from burning with regret on the Day of Judgement…”

The condition of firasah is that one eats from what is lawful and one delves into reflection and developing one’s heart. The first step in reflection and having a heart that is capable of feeling is to look at events around one with the eye of discernment. Allah has invited His servants to look at the events around him with foresight and to take lesson and in many verses He has said:

Have they not looked at the how We created the camel, the clouds, the rain, the mountains, how the green plants die in winter and then We bring them back to life in the spring, and at the remains of past nations?’[2]

After counting the endless bounties of Allah in the Qur’an, Allah then repeatedly addresses people ‘o people of insight[3]’…. And desires they look at the universe with the eye of discernment. Many other verses similar to this ask:

Will you not reflect? Will you not ponder?’ Will you not use your mind’[4]

Thus man has been invited to look upon the universe not from an empty and unintelligible perspective but rather with foresight and intelligence to understand its wisdom.

The following verses from the Qur’an demonstrate the importance of foresight:

‘There is instruction in that for people of insight’(Al’i Imran, 3:13)

‘And remember Our slaves Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya‘qub, men of true strength and inner sight. We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode. In Our eyes they are among the best of chosen men’(Sa’d, 45-47).

‘Say: ‘This is my way. I call to Allah with inner sight, I and all who follow me’(Yusuf, 12:108)

Scenes of Virtue

One day the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was asked:

“O Messenger of Allah! Have you ever worshipped any other than Allah?” The reply was:


He was then asked:

“Have you ever drunk alcohol?”

He replied:

“No, never! Even before I was aware of what the Book and faith were I knew that those things were from unbelief”(Diyarbekri, I, 254-255).

The pure nature of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was created with the peak of intelligence, foresight and discernment.


Five years before the prophethood of Allah’s Messenger began, the Quraysh attempted to rebuild the Ka’bah. The Prophet, together with his uncle, Abbas, helped in this task. When it came to placing the Black Stone into its place, each tribe wanted the honour of doing this for itself and a huge quarrel broke out as a result. The event resulted in much jealousy and greed, so much so that blood was about to be spilt. The sons of AbduDarr brought a bowl full of blood and made a pact with the sons of Adiy ibn Ka’b to fight until the death and they began to prepare to do battle. In order to strengthen their oath they dipped their hands in the bowl of blood. The Quraysh remained in this state for about four or five nights.

Eventually the oldest man amongst the Quraysh, Abu Umayya said in a loud voice:

“O my people. We only want good and we do not want evil. Do not enter into a race of jealousy amongst yourselves. Leave the quarrel. Since we have not been able to solve this problem amongst ourselves, let us appoint whoever first enters the Ka’bah to be a judge amongst us. And let us be content with his judgement”. And he showed them Bani Shaybah, the door of the Ka’bah.

Just as that point the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) appeared at the door. A smile appeared on the faces of everyone present, for the one who had come was Muhammad the trustworthy. The love, respect and trust that the Quraysh had for the Prophet had grown day by day. In fact, when they were about to sacrifice a camel, they would search out the Prophet and ask him to make a prayer of blessing for this task.[5]

This is why as soon as they saw him, the Quraysh said:

“Look, it is Al-amin (The trustworthy one). We accept him as a judge amongst us”.

They explained the matter to him. He then selected one man from each tribe and then took off his cloak and laid it down on the ground. Then he placed the Black Stone in the centre of his garment and had each person from each tribe hold a corner of it. They brought the blessed stone like that and then the Prophet himself took the stone and put it in its place. In this way the Prophet prevented a probable battle from erupting between the tribes and displayed his intelligence and foresight. (Ibn Hisham, I, 209-214; Abdurrazzak, V, 319).

The acumen of Allah’s Messenger which he displayed in all of the battles he fought in the way of Islam, and the foresight he showed in the peace treaties he made, at Hudaybiya in particular, and at the conquest of Mecca, at Hunayn, and the extraordinary tactics he displayed at Taif and the justice that he brought were elevated and exalted above anything that ordinary men could do.

And people have always been in awe and trusted people of foresight and strong personality.


When the prophet Yûsuf was vindicated of any crime and freed from prison, a messenger was sent to him. Yûsuf, however did not want to leave prison until the King was fully aware of what had happened, and until the matter was made absolutely clear and until everyone had fully accepted that he had been put into prison unjustly. By using his intelligence and by putting forth a patient and dignified stance he prevented those who were jealous of him from causing more mischief. He only consented to being released from prison when it was proven that the lies and accusations made against him were unjust and when he was genuinely free of suspicion.

This is why all Muslims should take heed from the foresight of Yûsuf and should be meticulous in raising any suspicion that may be had against them and avoid creating suspicion against them.


Even as a young child the prophet Sulayman (upon whom be peace) was extremely intelligent and perceptive. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) narrates the following event which relates to this characteristic of his:

“… one time there were two women walking along a path with their children. Suddenly a wolf came and ran off with the older ladies child. Upon this the woman said to the other (younger) woman:

“The wolf has run off with your child”. The other woman responded:

“No, he has taken your child”.

These two women then went to the prophet Dâwud (David) so that he could judge between them. Dâwud (upon whom be peace) judged that the child belonged to the older woman[6]. After they left that court, they went to Sulayman, the son of Dâwud and asked for his judgement. Sulayman said to them:

“Bring me a knife. Let us share this (remaining) child amongst the two of you”.

Upon this, the younger mother, who was the real mother of the child ran forward:

“No, please stop! May Allah have mercy on you. The child is this woman’s”

Upon this, Sulayman judged that the child belonged to the younger woman” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 40)


There is a story from the book Arais-i Majalis which is as follows:

There are two women who are the most superior in terms of foresight. Both of them were accurate in their analysis of the prophet Mûsa.

One of them is Asiya, the wife of the Pharaoh. (When Mûsa was brought to the palace in a chest, her heart inclined towards him and she took him to Pharaoh and said:

“Let this child be the apple of our eye. Do not slay him”.

The other is the daughter of the prophet Shuayb. She perceived the elevated character of Mûsa and said to her father:

“Dearest father! Hire him to herd our sheep. He will be the best of those you hire, the strongest and the most trustworthy”.

With her foresight, Safura, the daughter of Shuayb, had correctly perceived the trustworthy nature of Mûsa. When she was asked how she did this she answered:

“He did not even look at our faces. And when he walked, he walked in front of us. Thus we could see that he was very trustworthy”


It befalls every Muslim to receive his own share of the fatanah of the prophets, that is their intelligence coming from the heart, their foresight and discernment and to use this bounty of intelligence given to them in the best way. They should know what to say to the right person, at the right time, in the right way and at the right place.

For instance the subtle manner in which Jafar Tayyar  spoke to the Negus of Abyssinia, informing him about Islam, is very significant in showing the insight that a Muslim should have. When the Christian Negus asked Jafar-i Tayyar to recite some verses from the Qur’an, he did not immediately recite the verses that challenged the unbelievers, but rather he recited the verses that mentioned the prophet Jesus and his mother Mary. After he listened in deep reverence to the awesome verses recited by Jafar , the Negus said with tears in his eyes:

“These words have truly sprung from the same source as that which Jesus brought”. A little while later he became Muslim. (Ibn Hisham, I, 358-360)


According to a narration by Anas  himself, one day as he went to visit Uthman  he saw a woman along the way. The beauty of the woman left an impression on him. With these thoughts of the woman still on his mind he approached Uthman, who said to him:

“O Anas. Here you are entering with the traces of fornication still in your eyes”.

Anas was shocked at these words and asked:

“Is there revelation still being revealed even after Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has passed on?”

Uthman replied:

“No, this is foresight and correct observation”.[7]


When Abdullah ibn Umar (r.a) was told that Hussain , the grandson of the Prophet, had set out for Iraq, he immediately followed him and after travelling for three days, finally caught up with him. He asked him:

“O Hussain! Where are you going?”

Hussain (r.a) replied:

“I am going to Iraq”. Ibn Umar looked at Hussain and saw that he had scrolls of paper with him. Hussain said to him:

“These are letters from the Iraqis”. Ibn Umar said to him:

“Do not be deceived by their letters, and do not go to them”

However, no matter how much Ibn Umar insisted, Hussain still persisted in going.

“If I do not go, then who will go?” he said. Ibn Umar then addressed Hussain (r.a) as follows:

“In that case let me remind you of a hadith of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh):

‘One time Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah. He left him with the choice of staying in this world or going to the hereafter. Allah’s Messenger preferred the hereafter to this world. You are a piece of Allah’s Messenger. I swear by Allah that not one of you from the ahl’ul bayt (the family of the Prophet) will prosper in the world until the Day of Judgement, that is you will not possess wealth, nor property, nor position or repute for a long period of time. What prevents you from being successful in this world is that the afterlife is much better for you, and you have already preferred it over this world.’

Hussain (r.a) still did not consent to returning with Ibn Umar. Upon this Abdullah ibn Umar embraced him and wept and then said:

“May Allah protect you, you are going to your death”. (Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya VIII, 152; Zahabi, Siyer, III, 296).

The brother of Hussain (r.a), Hasan (r.a) also wrote a letter to Muawiya in order to dispel the trouble and strife that had arisen amongst the Muslims and in order to prevent any blood being shed. He then renounced his caliphate.

Thus these events that demonstrate the foresight of Abdullah ibn Umar and also the pain and troubles that that the family of the Prophet endured as a result of their sacrifice, responsibility and love of service to Islam.


Abdulqadir Geylani (ks) narrates an event that happened to him:

One day I saw a light appear before my eyes and encompass the entire horizon. While I was trying to understand what it was a voice sounded from the light:

“O Abdulqadir. I am your Lord. I am so pleased with the good deeds that you have done up till now that I have made the unlawful lawful for you”.

However as soon as the voice stopped, I realised that it had come from Satan and I said:

“Off with you cursed one. The light that you have shown me is eternal darkness”.

Upon this Satan said:

“You have again managed to escape from me as a result of the wisdom and discernment that your Lord has bestowed upon you. But I have managed to make stray from the path hundreds of people with this method”. Then he disappeared.

I raised my hands to the heavens and thanked Allah in awareness of this bounty from my Lord.

Somebody who was listening to these words of mine asked me:

“O Abdulqadir how did you know that it was Satan?”

I replied:

“From what he said about making the unlawful lawful for me…”

This is the kind of discernment that each of us need our entire lives.


In the difficult and dark period of the Ottoman Empire, when the princes were competing with each other for the throne, the public were very sound, mature and had a great awareness of history to such a degree that is beyond comparison with the people of today. They did not show bias towards any of the princes-in-waiting, and they preferred to await the result of the clashes that arose amongst them. This is why when Musa Chelebi arrived in the suburbs of Bursa, the capital of that time, the people sent their representatives to him saying:

“None of us are supporters of you nor are we against you. As brothers, you take care of this matter yourselves. Do not involve us in this clash of yours, or you will open up wounds that will be impossible to heal. The loyalty of each soldier under your command is a debt of conscience to you princes. However our request from you is that you do not allow this disagreement to divide our nation…”

And so one of the most powerful agents in preventing the division of the Ottoman State, was this very foresight, discernment, prudence and sound character of its people. Otherwise, as seen in many other nations there would have been bloodshed and rancour amongst the people as a result of stubborn partisanship and blindly following a particular leader.


Timurlane who defeated Yildirim Bayazid at Ankara, had the Ottomans pay protection money which continue for several years.

After that the Ilhans continued this agreement saying that they had taken the place of Timur. This agreement lasted until Murad Han II. Then, during his reign the Ottomans regained their power and addressed the Sultan as follows:

“My Sultan. Why are you still paying these people protection money? Let us rid ourselves of them…”

Murad II, who was a very intelligent and prudent ruler gave the following reply in response to this emotion-filled request:

“They are not yet aware of our rise and our current power. If we do not give them the money they want now they will gather together an army, albeit a small one, against us. Even though they will be defeated, Muslim blood will be shed… Thus continue to pay them the money that they want for now. I do not want to shed Muslim blood in return for money…

However you can display the magnificence of our army to the envoys of the Ilhans and let them become aware of our power and strength. In this way they will not have the courage and nerve to ask for protection money from an elevated nation much superior to themselves…”

And so it was that events turned out the way that Murad II predicted.


One of the reasons that Murad II persisted in his wish that his son, Mehmed Fatih II ascend the throne was the great potential he saw within him. This is because even from a young age, Prince Mehmed would reflect on and do many things that older people never even considered. He would ask his father very deep questions. One time he saw his father in the garden of the palace and ran to him. After he asked him how he was, he said:

“O my sultan father. I don’t know the wisdom behind it but despite the great responsibility and burden upon your shoulders I do not see the signs of age in you that I see in other old people. You have aged like other people, but you are not bent over like them. Even though you have endured much trouble and distress, you still have the energy and alertness, the heroism and bravery of a young man and you are able to use your intelligence and will power appropriately. I look and there you are victorious on the battlefield. I look and there you are – a wise teacher in circles of learning. I look again and there you are a dervish sincerely serving the people… neither your days nor your nights are your own. How do you gather the strength to manage all of these without breaking your back. You are like a young sapling upright and sound. You have managed to preserve that subtle and delicate spirit of yours? How can this be father? The continual occupation of the mind is enough to weary and tire a person out, but this has brought no change in you and has not ruined your state of peace. What medicine do you use for this extraordinary character of yours, what type of elixir do you drink for your superior intelligence? Please teach me, so that I can follow in your path…”

Surprised at such questions from his young son, but at the same time very pleased Murad II gave the following historical piece of advice to his son:

“O my dearest son. You have made me very happy. May our exalted Lord, whom the universe and everything in it worships, increase the superior qualities He has bestowed upon you. May He allow you to continue in your wonder for such great and encompassing matters.

O my son. No matter what anyone says, I believe that when those people who live their lives based on the principles of uprightness and honesty leave this world, they will meet with endless bounties that are hard to imagine. I have no doubt about this. That is why I try to worship Allah in the most sincere and heartfelt way. I believe that Allah will recompense me for the pain and struggles of this world that I have endured and I seek refuge in Him for every matter. In addition I believe that within His decree or fate that He has written for me there is great ease and pleasure.

O my son. It is necessary to keep yourself distant from believing and being fooled by every word that is uttered. It is also necessary to consider and learn the inner aspect of every situation and to come closer to your own true reality.

Just as a fruit can only be eaten once it has matured; those people who have lived through life and who have knowledge and experience are always those who chosen over others. In contrast, to eat an unripe grape while there are delicious, ripe grapes in your reach is a flaw of the mind.

O my son. From time to time I remember my great forefathers. And sometimes I ponder on the end affair of the generations to come after me. Praise be to Allah, we have arrived at this day, having been the subject of love, respect and devotion. I hope to continue in the same way after this day too. However I came into this world that is how I would like to leave.

Know this – that the continuation of anything is not possible through crude force, the sword, heroism or oppressiveness. Intelligence, prudence precaution, patience, foresight, and being tried and tested are very important. The first tactic is not always valid and also has many drawbacks. And the second way does not amount to anything on its own. It is necessary to apply both in order to meet with great success. Do not forget the great victories of our great forefathers. Though on the surface they appear to have taken place under the shadow of the sword, in truth they were only possible through intelligence, logic and love.

O my son. Do not abandon justice if only for an instant. Because Allah Most High is just and loves those who are just. From one aspect, you are His vicegerent on earth. He has willed to bestow on you many bounties and favours and has made you a commander over people. Never forget this…

O my son. There are three types of people in this world:

The first group are those are intelligent and reasonable and who think more or less about the future and who are not abnormal or strange in anyway.

The second group are those who are far from knowing which path is straight and which is crooked. However they have fallen into this situation not through their own choice, but as a result of the influence of those around them. When they are advised they turn back to the straight path; they accept the truth and they listen to reason. However they also live according to what they hear around them most of the time.

The third group of people are not aware of anything around them and nor do they take heed to the advice and warnings given to them. They only follow their own desires and think they know everything. These are the most dangerous of people.

O son. If Allah Most High has created you to be from the first group of people, then this will please me much and I thank and praise Him. If you are from the second group, then I advise you to listen to the advice and warnings that are given to you. But beware! Do not be amongst the third group of people. They are not in a good state neither in the sight of Allah, nor in the eyes of people.

O son. Sultans are like people who hold scales in their hands. The true sultan is however the one who holds his scales correctly. When you become a sultan I advise you to balance your scales well. Then Allah Most High will desire good for you. He will make you from those of the righteous. And He is aware of all things…”

What extraordinary foresight and intelligence of both father and son…


In addition to the many types of service of Bayazid Wali II such as establishing trust foundations, complexes and hospitals, the importance he placed on the Islamic sciences and culture was great. The period in which he ruled was the period in which the foundations were laid for Ottoman culture and civilisation. When the famous Italian architect and painter, Leonardo da Vinci, wrote a letter to Bayazid II, offering to design the plans and projects for the mosques and other buildings in Istanbul, the viziers of the Kubbealti were very pleased. However, Bayazid II, who had a very deep and delicate understanding of tasawwuf rejected his offer saying:

“If we accept this offer, the architecture of our nation will be a copy of church architecture in both style and spirit. Our own Islamic architecture will not thrive and gain its own personality”.

This attitude expresses the perspective of the intelligent, prudent and heartfelt Muslim. After Bayazid II the lands of Islam increased to 24 million square kilometres. In the same way Islamic art reached its peak. It was due to this attitude that the spirit of Islam was embroidered into the architecture of places of worship such as Selimiye and Sulaymaniye which have been able to preserve their value and will continue to do so until the Day of Judgement.


It is without a doubt that the first victim of Palestine was Abdulhamid Han II. He showed great sensitivity in the matter of Palestine and put forth a very cautious and prudent approach in the face of the hopes and desires of the Jews which at first glance seemed innocent. Abdulhamid Han said to Theodore Hertzl who offered to pay the entire foreign debt of the Ottomans in return for Palestinian land:

“I will not sell one handspan of Palestinian soil. For this land does not belong to me, it belongs to my people. And my people gained these lands by spilling their blood. A piece of land that is obtained by the blood of martyrs cannot be sold for money. Know that I will never allow the treacherous surgical procedure that you plan to perform on this living body”. He also took serious measures to eliminate this most dangerous of dangers.

Knowing what we know today we can better understand the foresight and prudence of Abdulhamid Han II.

To this day, the most popular name for boys in Palestine is Abdulhamid. The Palestinians honour him with the words: “We are the orphans of Abdulhamid”.


In short, foresight and discernment are necessary traits of the believer. Shah Al-Kirmani says:

“Whoever protects his eye from the unlawful, and keeps his soul distant from carnal desires and pleasures; whoever is cautious about what is within him, and who externally follows the sunnah or way of the Prophet; and whoever is nourished by lawful provision -this person will never falter in his foresight and discernment.”

[1].     Sehl-i mumteni are expressions which they though appear on the surface to be easy, simple and plain [clear, straightforward] are in fact difficult to produce and imitate.

[2].     Qaf, 6; Yunus 101; Ghashiyah 17-20; Nur, 43; Haj, 63; Ra’d 3; Anbiya 31; Nahl 65; Rum, 50; Muhammad 10…

[3].     Al’I Imran, 13; Nur, 44; Hashr, 2…

[4].     An’am, 50; Baqara, 219, 266; Muhammad, 24; Nisa, 82; Yasin 68…

[5].     Abdurrazzak, V, 319; Ibn Kathir, Al Bidaya, II, 304

[6].     One of the characteristics of the prophets is ‘ismah’ that is being free of sin. However they are not immune to ‘zelle’, or making small mistakes, as a result of being human. Zelle are mistakes made by prophets made unwillingly. There are many instances of wisdom in this. Sometimes it so happens that as a result of these small mistakes, Almighty Allah wills that a particular command come into place. Sometimes He allows His prophets to feel their human weakness and sometimes He wants to remind people that these exceptional individuals are also human beings and that they too can err occasionally thus preventing ‘divinity’ from being attributed to them.

[7].     Kushayri, Risale, p 238